Could Dale Jr., Danica miss Daytona 500?

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., won his second Daytona 500 last year, but could miss the field this year.Thursday’s Budweiser Duel qualifying races might seem like just a formality to set the field for the 2015 Daytona 500, but there might a big name or two heading home after the races are over.

First, let’s reset where the field is at:

Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have locked down their spots on the front row.

• Four more drivers (Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Carl Edwards, Jamie McMurray) posted speeds on Sunday fast enough to clinch spots in the field.

• The top six drivers in last season’s owner points (who aren’t already in) are locked in as well. That’s Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth.

Tony Stewart is a lock to get at least the 43rd starting spot thanks to the former champion’s provisional spot.

Notice some big names and fan favorites not among those 13? Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch could all have scenarios play out Thursday where they’re not in the field for the Daytona 500. Some are far more likely than others.

Let’s take a quick look at the two headliners who could be heading home, Earnhardt Jr. and Patrick.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Junior’s route to miss the 500 field would take a perfect storm of unfortunate events.

First, he needs to finish outside the transfer spots (top 15) of his qualifying race. It's a possibility, seeing as he’ll start that race last.

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Minimum 10 Career Starts

Then, Harvick, Newman, Hamlin, Logano, Keselowski and Kenseth all need to finish outside the transfer spots in their qualifying race. The same goes for four of the seven remaining drivers that put up a faster speed in qualifying. Finally, one of the former series champions not yet locked in would have to also not finish in a transfer spot.

It’s an unlikely (but possible) scenario that would knock out the driver who won last year’s 500 and finished in the top 2 in four of the past five Daytona 500s.

Danica Patrick

Just two years ago, Danica Patrick was on the pole and then finished in the top 10 in the Daytona 500. In what could be her final season at Stewart-Haas Racing, her scenario for missing the field is more realistic, albeit it would still take a few events to happen.

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Obviously, it would start with her finishing outside the transfer spots in her Duel race.

Patrick was 32nd-fastest in last Sunday’s qualifying, so four of the drivers in front of her would need to fall back on their speed for Danica to not have one of those spots available.

At least six drivers among the 27 ahead of her in owner points would then also need to have to revert to their points, other than the four drivers who would have to fall back on their speed.

The odds of this happening are not great, but it does throw some extra intrigue into Thursday’s races.